During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” proganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

China Hand Painted Soldiers Sword Pre-paid Postcard 1903 4c Hk Shanghai P/m C287Japan 1904 Colour Ppc “wounded Soldiers At Inn Near Shimbashi” Sent To UkWw1, Wwi Military Rp Postcard - Soldier In Uniform With Bicycle & Gun C1916!Yarm War Memorial 1920 Opening Unveiling Ceremony Old Postcard (m467)Real Photograph Postcard Sheffield, Angel Street With Wwii Blitz Damage UnpostedReal Photo Postcard Sheffield From King Street With Wwii Blitz Damage UnpostedOriginal German Army Ww2 Postcards X3; Giant Railway Gun, Panzers, Mine-sweeperLot Of 35+ Ww2 Era Comic Photos Postcard Blanks?Antique Postcard / Wuhan University, China / Japanese Military Mail / C. 1940Rp 6th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Leaving Bedford Ww1 Blake & Edgar 1914Rp Little Rock Arkansas Civil War Veterans Ucv Reunion Girls Band 1911 PostcardPre War Baseball Stadium Postcards (13) Polo Grounds-wrigley-yankee StadiumC1945 Military Academy San Rafael California Rppc Ca Zan 143Real Photograph Postcard Sheffield, The Moor With Wwii Blitz Damage UnpostedWw2 Bamforth Military Comic Postcard 1939 1945 Nylons Stockings Garter Belt Raf Amoy China Chipbee Studio Real Photo Postcard Girls In Navy Type Uniforms RppcLavish Gold Embel. To Santa & Girl On Toboggan Sled Doll Soldier Horse & More PcSoldiers & Building Pershing Stadium France Wwi Real Photo Rppc PostcardsEarly Trick Photography With Mirror, Soldier With Book, 5 Views, Real PhotoRp Fulham Union Ww1 Military Hospital Workhouse London Real Photo Atmotte C1918Prostitutes Red Light Cal Osbon Mexican Revolution War Real Photo Postcard Rppc Soldats Chinois à Pekin / Chinese Soldiers At Peking (shanghai Stamp 1907)1912 Rppc Postcard Gilboa Ohio Putnam County Deer Hunting Shot Gun & ButcheringRppc - Geronimo Famous Apache War Chief -prisoner At Fort Sill CopyrightedRp 1910s Wwi Black Us Soldier In Uniform Id'd Pvt Edward Davis PostcardWw1 Period R.p.postcard Group Of Soldiers Mixed Regiments Mainly Royal Artillery1918 Wwi Us Army Big Red One Postcard27 All Different Real Photo Navy Unused Postcards 1920? Plane ShipXavier Sager Woman Mail Soldier War Propaganda Original Old Postcard 1910sWwi Postcard European Soldier Uniform Hat Ww1 Post Card Photograph Ww I Vtg OldCzechoslovak Recruiting Office-army-wwi-czech Propaganda-no. 2-h78883Wwi Geese In Uniform The Goose Step Marching To Berlin Vintage Postcard Wwi Postcard 1917 Christmas Eve Postmark Ww1 Holmes Pennsylvania Camp Hancock GaSingapore Ww Ii Surrender British Army General Percival 1942 Stamp SaburoDeutschland German Submarine Wwi World War I Postcards The Fatherland MagazineRp Cromer Cabbell Rd Ww1 Gloucestershire Regt Soldiers Recruits Norfolk 1914China Old Postcard French Settlement After Boxer War Tientsin To Germany 1902 !!1942 Ww2 Allied America British Australia Anti Nazi Hitler Propaganda PostcardAmoy China Chipbee Studio Real Photo Postcard Soldiers Target Practice RppcHuge Group Over 250 Lot Of Old Collectible Postcards Photos Military Holiday Vintage Amoy China Navy & Police Maintain Peace & Order Along Jetty Postcard1944 Ww2 Anti Nazi German Hitler Aircraft Battleship Bombing Propaganda PostcardMiddlesbrough South Bank, The War Memorial 1935 Postcard (m357)Philippines Gen Douglas Macarthur Special Cancellation Maximum Postcard 1950Czechoslovak Recruiting Office-army-wwi-czech Propaganda-no. 5-h78889General George S. Patton Fdc Rppc Military Maximum Postcard 1953Czechoslovak Recruiting Office-army-wwi-czech Propaganda-no. 11-h78893Czechoslovak Recruiting Office-army-wwi-czech Propaganda-no. 1-h78891Czechoslovak Recruiting Office-army-wwi-czech Propaganda-no. 8-h78885French Poilu World War 1 Soldier Divided Back Vintage PostcardNoblespirit No Reserve 9998/719 23x Vintage Military+patriotic PostcardsWw1 Military Postcard 1914 18 Canada Australia New Zealand S Africa Soldier Naval - Uss Olympia & Commodore Dewey 1899 Hero Of Spanish-american War1915 Italian Airship Citta Di Jesi Near Pola Croatia.ww1 Fieldpost AustriaOriginal Ww2 Postcard Artillery Machine Gun Troops Vintage Antwerp BelgiumRppc Ww1 Soldier Man Military Uniform Joseph Dubé Studio Photo Livernois BadgeRp Ww1 R.a.m.c British Army Medical Corps Military Band Flute / Drum C1915Vintage Wwii Anti Nazi Postcard "out The Nazis" Italian SeriesReal Photo Dime Store Cowboy J.johnson Postcard Ww1 Veteran Keane Nh + History Rppc Lafayette, Indiana Soldiers Home Wayne County 1908